I was on a mission to load up on classic American junk food in NYC - hot dogs, burgers, pizzas and the works.
1. Hot dogs at Papaya King
You can't miss the colorful, neon signages. This outlet at 179 East 86th Street is a convenient stopover to satisfy those middle-of-the-day hunger pangs after making your rounds at the Guggenheim museum.
I shared the King combo (USD 5.99) with a friend - 1 papaya drink, 2 hot dogs and 1 Cajun curly fries. The hot dogs came with some onion and relish toppings and I polished them off with dollops of mustard.
I did not manage to try Grey's Papaya - the other famous hot dog name, recommended by food-traveler and native New Yorker, Anthony Bourdain. But Papaya King was easily the best hot dogs I've tried in NYC so far, easily beating the long established Nathan's of Coney Island. I digged the warm toasted buns and of course, the frankfurters. And I especially enjoyed the tasty curly fries.
Papaya King has 3 outlets in Manhattan and 1 in New Jersey. See http://www.papayaking.com/index.htm for more information.
Have heard of the legendary In & Out burgers hailing from the West Coast of USA. While NYC does not have In & Out, I have read, heard and been told that the best East Coast equivalent are Shake Shack and possibly White Castle.
Truth be told I've trekked down especially to Madison Square Park twice, in futile hope of checking out Shake Shack's burgers. Alas, the queues are always crazy long and after the second visit, I realized they will probably remain crazy long, no matter the time of the day.
While I'll go to great lengths and sometimes travel the distances for food, I just can't stomach long queues. I know, it sounds silly, seeing that I've came all the way to NYC and made the trip to the park twice, but fail to try the food, simply because I dislike queues. But hey, I've got weak knees, does that explain? Well, and probably also because I made both visits solo, so it seem like quite a pain to queue for such a long time on your own. Even with Ipod fully plugged on, I think I'll still be bored out of my tears.
Perhaps I'll make a return trip on my next visit to NYC, with a companion fully in tow. If any of you reading this have the good fortune and blessed patience to have had tried Shake Shack, let me know how good it is!
Took a look at their website and realized that Shake Shack will be opening a branch (finally!) at the Upper West Side. For more information, see http://shakeshacknyc.com/index.html.
3. Good old Totonno's pies
I was quite fixated on trying the classic NY, Neapolitan-inspired thin crust pizzas and had my fix at Totonno's.
My travel companions and I headed down to the original flagship shop in Coney Island, Brooklyn. It was a worthwhile trip for not only did we get to savor fresh, made-to-order pizzas, we also got to soak up the atmospheric vibe of the historical eatery, established since 1924. I really dig the dining scene in Brooklyn, where we got to dine at places with eons of history and soak up the culture and vibe. Another such place was Peter Luger's.
Totonno's does not sell pizzas by the slice since they are all made-to-order, so you gotta order a whole pie. And frankly, being superbly thin crust, a large pie could easily be polished off by a party of two or even a ravenous one!
The waitress recommended the plain pie, so we had a large half plain, half pepperoni and sausage.
Totonno's has crazy rave reviews, with some Zagat reviewers enthusing "Only God makes better pizzas"! But of course, bear in mind that Zagat is basically a compilation of laymen reviewers, like myself, who may sometimes go hyperbolic when making a case for their favorite eateries. For more information on Totonno's, see http://www.totonnos.com/
4. Kosher bites
I figured that since I'm in New York, home to the largest Jewish population outside of Israel, what better place to finally check out Jewish food. I've been pretty intrigued with the Jewish culture and food, thanks to mention in all the Hollywood soaps, movies and reading all that New York literature and media.
I had a chance to finally sample a Pastrami on Rye and Matzah Ball soup, courtesy of Mendel's while dining at the Grand Central Terminal Food Hall.
The best I can described the Matzah ball soup, is that it tastes familiarly like Chicken soup, with the noodle strips and the chicken stock, but with an additional dough ball - the matzah ball.
As for the pastrami sandwich, while Katz's this ain't, I rather enjoyed it as I'm a big fan of beef and cured, thin beef slices with rye and a crunchy gherkin to munch on, sits fine with me.
Probably a better introduction to good kosher food may be the NY institution of Katz's Deli. Good luck tracking that down. Mazel Tov!
5. Ethnic Food at Hell's Kitchen Food Fest
The world truly congregates in New York City and what better place to sample a smorgasbord of international treats than a great fair like the Ninth Avenue Food Festival at Hell’s Kitchen. The annual fair usually takes place the weekend after Mother's Day and it stretches, and I mean stretches, all the way from 37th to 57th street! That's plenty of walking and eating to do!
The choices are wide and I was keen to check out the food offerings by the different ethnicities - Greek, Polish, Russian - the works.
In the end I settled for a Gyro - tasty but rather overpriced, I must say. With the lamb gyro and a can of Coke in hand, I secure a spot at one of the open tables and enjoyed my meal in the sun. On that particular day, it really felt as though Spring was turning into Summer, as the sun was scorching and there was not a sight of Spring's rain and I actually had burnt marks on my shoulders when I got home later!
For more information on the Ninth Avenue Food Festival, go to http://hellskitchen.bz/info/ninthavenuefoodfestival.shtml
6. Famous Taiwan Ah Chung vermicelli makes its way to New York
Some of the most indelible memories of my trips to Taipei were of the Taiwanese street food, notably the famous and impossibly delicious Ah-Chung Mian Xian (vermicelli). I especially relished slurping a hot, piping bowl of the vermicelli on a cool, wintry day. At the popular Ah-Chung stall in Taipei's trendy Xi Men Ting district, you order your vermicelli either to-go or you basically order a bowl and finish it on your feet, standing around the premises, as there was no seating available.
At Queens, NYC, Ah-Chung has a stall right in the heart of Flushing Mall's food court. The portions here are way bigger than Taipei's (if I recall correctly, possibly, a good two to three times more, but probably way more expensive than Taipei's too) and you get seating at the food court. In addition, the stall here also sells other typical Taiwanese dishes such as their pork-rib rice and soup dumplings.
It was a rather pleasant surprise when I found out about Ah-Chung in NYC. But apparently, Flushing in Queens has gained quite a reputation as the other Chinatown of NYC (the current more prominent one being the Canal Street area in Manhattan). But before the influx of the Chinese, this part of Queens was actually known as a "Little Taiwan" of sorts among the Taiwanese community in NYC.